Sacred Space, Past and Present

Posted on June 26th, 2017 by

Post by Collections Intern Joelle Paull.  To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

Old Synagogue, Krakow

Old Synagogue, Krakow

Studying medieval art, I have become really interested in how ritual space shapes a community and in turn is shaped by a communities need. While studying and traveling in Europe, I found myself exploring medieval synagogues and Jewish ghettos. Until that point my studies had been focused on Christian ritual spaces that became the center of towns across Europe. I was excited and pleasantly surprised to find myself in Jewish ritual spaces, often the center of centuries old Jewish neighborhoods. In some cases, like in the Jewish ghetto in Venice, the only distinguishing features of the synagogues are the rows of windows in the upper gallery.

These were unusual when compared to the narrow, cramped homes surrounding them. The same is true of the Old Synagogue in Krakow, one of the many centuries old synagogues on the perimeter of the city center, which was built in the 15th century, underwent many changes and was ultimately renovated and restored in the 20th century after WWII. Today, it is located in the corner of a square and is a simple multi-level brick building, with three large windows over the large entrance. From the outside there is little indication of the function of the building or the large rib vaulted interior.

Color snapshot of the Lloyd Street Synagogue facade, c. 1982.

Color snapshot of the Lloyd Street Synagogue facade, c. 1982.

Walking into the Lloyd Street Synagogue my first day of work, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the synagogue and the spaces I had studied. The Lloyd Street Synagogue is a perfect example of a ritual space that evolved over centuries to reflect the community around it. The synagogue was the center of the Jewish community in Baltimore and as such took on both a religious and civic importance. The archaeological discoveries at the current synagogue, showcased in the exhibit, The Synagogue Speaks, allow us to understand what the synagogue looked like from 1845 to today.

From this understanding we can begin to understand how it functioned on a day to day basis and the role it had in the lives of its patrons. The unassuming facade of the sacred building gives little to no indication that it is a synagogue. It was only in the 1900s, after the building was converted the building back into a synagogue that the exterior begins to show signs of its function – Hebrew lettering on the portico, the gallery level windows on the façade. The 20th century synagogue, until it was beginning in the 1960s, was elaborately decorated, with new furniture, chandeliers, and murals. The following restoration returned the synagogue to its original 1860s appearance. The ability to walk into a space and see the many layers of its history makes the Lloyd Street Synagogue unique. The oral and written histories and the many artifacts only add to our understanding of the space itself.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Inventory and the Crystal Chandelier: A Journey Into Deep Intellectual Thought

Posted on June 18th, 2015 by

The Good Soldier and myself in Przemysl, Poland.

The Good Soldier and myself in Przemysl, Poland.

After spending six weeks abroad in the beautiful country of Poland during my senior year of college, I have embarked on a professional and academic journey into Holocaust studies. While it is clearly not a cheerful topic, it is one that I find to be challenging and interesting. My graduate school experience at the George Washington University, where I am a MA Museum Studies student, has included an internship with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Sociology of the Holocaust and Genocide course, and two Holocaust related classes planned for my final year. I am thankful for my internship with JMM, because through all of the horrors and devastations of the Holocaust which I have studied, this museum is a reminder of the vibrant Jewish culture which managed to survive and thrive after the Holocaust.

One of my primary projects over this summer is to perform the scheduled inventory of the JMM permanent collection. While going through a drawer, I came across two items, a crystal facet and crystal pendant, accompanied by an incredible provenance. Once again, the Holocaust became a focus point for my work.

Crystal Chandelier Facet. JMM 1986.072.032

Crystal Chandelier Facet. JMM 1986.072.032

Crystal Chandelier Pendant. JMM 1986.072.033

Crystal Chandelier Pendant. JMM 1986.072.033

In December of 1938, just a month after Krystallnacht (the systematic burning of Germany’s synagogues by the Nazis) Richard Zurndorfer escaped Germany and traveled to Baltimore, MD. He managed to bring several items with him, including these crystal pieces, belonging to a chandelier from a synagogue in Mhringen, Germany, which was destroyed during Kystallnacht. A census list of European Jews and a Torah were also brought over. JMM is now home to these items.

The story of Mr. Zurnforfer made me think about how important artifacts are. While museums are always evolving to remain relevant to the public, it is crucial to remember the value of artifacts. This collection meant a great deal to Mr. Zurnforfer, who was described as “A man with respect for old traditions, he sticks like printer’s ink to his family artifacts – largely because they are the artifacts of his family,” by reporter Isaac Rehert of The Sun on January 17, 1978. In regards to the objects, Rehert says, “They tell the story of a thriving Jewish community acknowledged and valued by its sovereign, with roots deep down in Germany’s culture, with hardly a hint of the tragedy that was to overtake it.”

Whether coming across these items was strictly a coincidence, or an act of fate, I am again reminded about why I have chosen to work in museum collections. Artifacts facilitate relationships and lead to connections. In this case, the Holocaust becomes more than a Nazi, Jewish, or European issue. It becomes a Maryland, Baltimore, and JMM intern issue. I hope to have more intense thought provoking experiences like this one while I continue to inventory the collection!

IMG_0985A blog post by Collections Intern Kaleigh Ratliff. To read more posts from interns click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

MS 206 The Felix Kestenberg Collection

Posted on October 5th, 2012 by

The Felix Kestenberg (1921-2008)

cause and effect essay on bullying

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n.d., 1987-2008

 MS 206

 Jewish Museum of Maryland


The Felix Kestenberg collection was donated to the Jewish Museum of Maryland by Veronica Kestenberg in 2010 as accession 2010.69. The collection was processed by Jennifer Vess in 2012.

Access to the collection is unrestricted and available to researchers at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Researchers must obtain written permission of the Jewish Museum of Maryland before publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library’s usual practices

Hebrew Free Loan Association - October 1989. Felix Kestenberg kneels third from the left in the front row. 2010.69.6


Felix Kestenberg was born in 1921 in Radom, Poland, the son of a shoe manufacturer.  In 1939 he was sent to a labor camp on the border of Russia and was moved to seven other camps including Auschwitz and Maidanek.  In January 1945, he was marched to Dachau. The camp was liberated on April 29, 1945 by American troops.  He was the only member of his family to survive.

Kestenberg moved to Baltimore in 1949 to live with his uncle Leo Altfeder.  Kestenberg’s first jobs included TV repairman and roofer. He eventually joined his uncle’s clothing business and later worked for London Fog and Misty Harbor Outerwear.

Kestenberg was active in the Jewish community serving in various positions for the Hebrew Free Loan Society, the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society and Jewish Family Services.  Under the Jewish Family Services he served as the chair for the Holocaust Claims Conference Committee.  Kestenberg traveled around Maryland telling his story at schools, churches and synagogues.  He was a founding member and long-time supporter of Beth Israel Congregation.

His first wife, Doris Potler, died 1968 and he later married Veronica Salazar.  He had three children, David Homoki, Leah Miller and Edith Creeger.  Kesternberg died in Baltimore on July 22, 2008.


The Felix Kestenberg Collection contains photographs, certificates, programs, articles, letters, and DVDs predominantly related to Kestenberg’s work with Holocaust remembrance.  The materials reference Kesternberg’s talks given to students, participation in yearly Holocaust remembrance events aroundMaryland, and awards for his accomplishments.  The papers are organized with all articles first followed by certificates then materials such as programs and letters related to his talks on the Holocaust.  Each grouping of materials is organized chronologically.  The DVDs and photographs are stored separately.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland